15 Common Idioms for English Learners
1. Up in the air – “(to be) up in the air” means that something has not been resolved, finished or answered yet. It usually refers to a plan or a decision that has not been decided.Example: “I think I can do it quickly, but the exact schedule is still up in the air.”
2. Hit the books – simply means to study, especially with particular intensity.
Example: “They went to the beach when they should have been hitting the books and then they wondered why they got bad grades”
3. Hit the sack – generally means to go to bed. You can also say “hit the hay” which has the same meaning. Example: “…A soldier gets tired feet and is eager to hit the sack.” “Time to hit the hay”
4. Twist someone’s arm – means to persuade someone to do something. If someone twisted your arm, it means that someone has done a great job of convincing you to do something you might not have wanted to do.
Example: “They had to twist his arm, but they got him to join the project” “Uhm, you’ve twisted my arm. Ok John, I’ll go with you”
5. Stab someone in the back – The saying “stab someone in the back” simply means to betray someone. It is used as a verb – stab someone in the back
Example: “He was stabbed in the back by his friends.”
6. Lose touch – This means to cease to be familiar with someone or something (e.g. some certain skills or talent). This also refers to the lost ability to communicate or have contact with others. To make it simple, if you lose your touch, you lose your ability or skills you once had when working with things/situations.
Example: “Suddenly, friends found me again after I had lost touch with them years ago” “John, it looks like you’ve lost your touch with the girls in class” “She has lost touch with reality, maybe she is getting senile.”
7. Sit tight – The saying “sit tight” means to wait patiently or to remain quiet. If somebody tells you to sit tight, they would like you to wait and take no action until they say otherwise.
Example: I’ll be back in a few minutes, so sit tight until I get back”
8. Pitch in – The saying “pitch in” is an English idiom simply meaning to help out, to lend assistance; or to contribute.
Example: If we all pitch in, we can raise enough money for the renovation of the house.
9. Pull someone’s leg – The saying “pull someone’s leg” means to tease someone, to lead someone on or to goad someone into overreacting. The term usually implies teasing or goading by jokingly lying. A brief translation of this saying could be to “fool or trick someone”.
Example: “I was only pulling Ms Jane’s leg about that, but she got angry with me.” “I was pulling your leg John, I was only joking.”
10. Face the music – This means to accept or confront the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions.
Example: “He failed the exam because he was lazy. So he’s going to have to face the music”. The police caught him selling drugs so now he has to face the music.
11. On the ball – The saying “on the ball” is typically used to reference someone that is alert, active, or attentive. A brief translation of this idiom would be “on top of things”.
If you say someone is “on the ball”, you mean that he or she understands the situation well.
Example: “If I had been more on the ball I would have asked when he called me”
12. Rule of thumb – The saying “rule of thumb” refers to a loose guideline, rather than a strict rule. Thus “rule of thumb” is a common understanding which is based on experience or general knowledge.
Example: “The usual rule of thumb says that to calculate when an investment will double, divide 70 by the interest rate.”
13. Ring a bell – This idiom is very simple. The saying “ring a bell” means to seem at least vaguely familiar.
Example: “His face rings a bell. I wonder if I know him from somewhere.”
14. Under the weather – This is generally used to reference someone that is somewhat ill or gloomy. So “feeling a bit under the weather” simply means feeling slightly ill.
Example: “I’m sorry, I feel a bit under the weather, I think I cannot join the party tonight”
15. Blow off steam – To “blow off steam” simply means to rant (talk loudly and in a way that shows anger) or shout in order to relieve stress.
Example: “Don’t take it personally when he shouts like that. He’s just blowing off steam”
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